Keyboard warriors are the bane of our female politicians' lives...

From screwed-up, misogynistic keyboard warriors banging out their usually half-literate bile at women, to crimes of violence against the gender, St Brigid would be horrified at our society, so says Colette Sheridan
Keyboard warriors are the bane of our female politicians' lives...

IN THE FIRING LINE: Women get a lot more abuse online than men. Picture PA / posed by model

YESTERDAY was St Brigid’s Day, a day for us women to reflect on our lot. And really, there isn’t a huge amount to celebrate.

What would the Dundalk-born saint make of Ireland in 2022? It is, in many ways, a cold place for women, with low representation of females in politics. And 40% of government committees, where important decisions are made, do not have any female representation.

Politics is a hard game for men but much harder for women. 

According to a survey by The Echo, published last week, almost a quarter of Cork’s elected representatives - both male and female - who took part in the questionnaire, have received death threats.

Two-thirds have received threatening or abusive messages. The response rate to the survey was 73%. It’s no wonder people are becoming increasingly reluctant to run for election.

As one respondent said: “We will be a nation led by head-bangers if this is allowed to continue.”

The anonymous respondent was referring to the Wild West that is social media and the need for more controls to be applied to these platforms. The keyboard warriors are particularly offensive towards women. And female politicians get an awful lot of stick.

As Fine Gael councillor, Eileen Lynch said last week, she is “sick of being on the receiving end of commentary that male counterparts just don’t receive”.

She spoke after submitting a motion on gender violence at a Cork County Council meeting, which received unanimous approval.

The Government is to unveil a national strategy on tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in early March. It can’t come too soon.

From screwed-up, misogynistic keyboard warriors banging out their usually half-literate bile at women, to crimes of violence against the gender, St Brigid would be horrified at our society.

The patron saint of poets, midwives, livestock and lots more, was almost a victim of her beauty. She wanted to join a convent but her father was insistent that she marry the wealthy man that he was going to pimp her to (for such arranged marriages, with money being part of the transaction, are akin to prostitution).

The story goes that Brigid prayed for God to take away her beauty so that the man wouldn’t want to marry her. Her wish was granted, her father relented and she joined a convent.

Brigid’s beauty returned because of course the legend couldn’t countenance a plain girl even if she was a nun. More beautiful than ever, she implored God to convince her father to give her land in Kildare so she could establish a convent. Her mean father said he would only give Brigid as much land as her cloak would cover. But, with God’s help, the cloak grew to cover acres of land.

(Even our female patron saint had to be a beauty, even though she had God’s ear.) Just like princesses, a holy woman had to be a stunner. Was that the ancient equivalent of ‘having it all’?

St Brigid would be disgusted that a shocking 96% of female politicians have received hate mail or abusive messages on social media.

That’s according to a 2020 study by NUIG (National University of Ireland Galway).

The study found that three- quarters of female politicians have been threatened with physical violence. Two in five said they had received threats of sexual violence. A quarter said they have been verbally abused in public.

One female politician who participated in the survey had faeces thrown at her, while another was threatened with an acid attack.

Other respondents who took part in the survey said they often received abusive phone calls at home and on their mobile phones. They worried about their family’s safety as a result of online threats.

It’s no wonder that many of the women admitted having considered leaving politics as a result of the awful abuse they receive.

We badly need more women to enter politics. But the odds are stacked against them. Depressingly, only a small minority that took part in the survey said they reported the abuse they were subjected to. But of those that made complaints, some said they found it difficult to get gardaí and social media companies to take threats seriously as there’s a perception that politicians are ‘fair game.’

On a brighter note, ‘Women for Election’, the organisation that helps women to become involved in politics through education, training and mentorship, have designated this Friday as #MoreWomenDay.

This campaign invites women to nominate a woman (or themselves) in an effort to have more women at the decision-making table.

Cllr Eileen Lynch has said that “we can’t keep accepting gender-based abuse and we need to call it out. The fundamentals here are education and respect”. And enlisting men to be good non-sexist role models for boys and young men.

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